The Case of Thilo Sarrazin – Cancel Culture the German way

…….The conflict between emotion-led hopes and the objections of reason can be defused, but it is never completely eliminated. Reason slows down impulsive action, while hope passionately desires even the impossible. In the best case, this struggle leads to a draw. The possible is realized, the impossible successfully rejected. In recent times, this constant struggle has led to the trimming or curtailing of the power of the German civil service – the competent backbone of the state since Prussia – because governments prefer to hire the paid and often compliant expertise of private companies to justify their decisions. Indeed, nothing substantially new would be able to emerge if a routine, usually equated with reason, were allowed to sabotage all projects of daring innovation. Man and society only see themselves as a moving force when setting out for distant shores and in the process overcome all entrenched routine.

The cleavage that arises from the contrast between cool reason and passionate desire erupted with unsuspected force after the publication in 2010 of Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany abolishes itself). How was this possible? As far as I know, even his numerous enemies have never been able to deny that Thilo Sarrazin had an exemplary civil service career. No one has been able to prove – although many later tried to do just that – that he had anything other than the common good in mind. Moreover, no one has been able to accuse him of false figures, frivolous or even populist statements. Sarrazin consistently relied on scientific research that had not caused any stir until then. At most, justified criticism could be leveled at one or another of his conclusions. But it is true of all his writings that in terms of factual reliability and soundness of judgment, most of them are very far above the level of his opponents.

But then how did it come about that this man became one of the most hated persons in Germany? I believe that only the paradox under discussion can provide a satisfactory answer. Wishful thinking – prompted by our feelings – is not only a powerful but often a reality-transforming force. After the war, Germany wanted with all its might to overcome the shame and guilt of the Nazi era – especially the murderous racial ideology. Overcoming this unfortunate legacy therefore called for a radically different way of dealing with foreigners, including the many migrants Germany had already admitted or would admit in the future. A great many people, especially younger ones, were prepared to stand up for foreigners, even at personal sacrifice. They really did so, as the warm reception in 2015 proved. 

Sarrazin’s book had the effect of a chilling shower that stifled all enthusiasm. The widespread desire for an altogether different future he countered with facts – indisputable facts – that he drew from the past. According to these facts, living together with strangers had always been problematic. Why should that be any different now? In Sarrazin’s book science and wishful thinking faced each other in stark irreconcilability. Science can only ever refer to the facts of the past, which it extrapolates into the future; but wishing sees its mission in overcoming the past in a changed, altogether different reality to come. Angela Merkel, the chancellor at the time, delivered an apt judgment. She called Sarrazin’s book „not really helpful.“ Indeed, looking to the past is rarely helpful if we want to follow our hopes and desires – that is true of individuals as well as of societies. Skeptical objections can completely paralyze action, often enough they have done so.

But is that an objection to science? Should the latter remain silent? Are we allowed to be guided by any wishful thinking, even if it leads us – as so often in history – to the sidelines or even, like Adolf Hitler’s racial ideology, to the abyss?

It is never proven from the outset that the will for a changed future is sufficient to actually realize it. In the case of Germany, this means that it is still by no means certain whether its people will succeed in living together harmoniously with the many foreigners they have taken in, or whether, conversely, the conclusions drawn by Sarrazin from past experience in his own and other countries will continue to prevail. Whether Germany will take a different path than France or England seems at least doubtful, for example when reading Sarah Wagenknecht (2021). After four years of research, for which he sent his students undercover into the suburbs, he /Bernard Rougier, who teaches at the Center for Arab and Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne/ presented a 353-page work on „The Conquered Territories of Islamism“ at the end of 2019. In it, he describes how Salafists and other radical Muslim groups are taking control of French neighborhoods and how a parallel universe has emerged in the affected residential areas, largely sealed off from French society, where the Western way of life is considered reprehensible and white French people are seen as invaders… In Britain, more and more women with Bangladeshi ancestry are wearing a veil, even though it is not at all common in Bangladesh. It is also clear from this example that the concern is not at all to adhere to customs and traditions of origin, but rather the practices are used explicitly to distinguish oneself from the indigenous population. And Wagenknecht concludes with the remark: What is glossed over by many left-wing liberals as multiculturalism is in fact the failure of integration.*1*

One thing should therefore be clear:  wishful thinking that disregards experience cannot be a useful model for human action. Sarrazin not only had a right to write his book – as a well-informed contemporary he even had a duty to do so. Men in positions of political responsibility must never base their decisions exclusively on mere hopes. They must be aware of the obstacles they face from existing institutions and public opinion.

The example of Sarrazin was an exemplary demonstration of the paradox of past-oriented reason and future-oriented desire. Both poles should be equally powerful, never one alone gaining the upper hand. If German politicians had felt strong enough at the time to effortlessly overcome all resistance (that existed in the public sphere), then the reaction to Sarrazin would certainly not have been so violent and even vicious. This man was destroyed, he was „canceled“ because Germans didn’t yet really trust themselves and their own will to liberate themselves from their past. The point was to overcome the contradiction within oneself by looking for a symbolic victim…..This is an excerpt from my new book The Perennial Paradoxes of Mind. Why this incessant war of conflicting ideas?

*1* The following statement by Wagenknecht could also have come from Sarrazin’s pen: Self-righteousness… sheds… light on… another typical trait of the lifestyle left: showing a morally untouchable attitude is more important to him than also implementing his concerns. The right attitude weighs more heavily than doing the right thing. Or the sentence: Anyone who expects his own government to look first and foremost after the welfare of the local population and protect it from international dumping competition and other negative consequences of globalization – a principle taken for granted among traditional leftists – is no longer considered a social-minded patriot but a chauvinist. Despite these obvious mental overlaps, we should, however, not overlook the differences. The former Berlin senator has always kept a low profile in public. In contrast, Sarah Wagenknecht voluntarily engages in a not infrequently garish media self-dramatization. So it is hardly surprising that Vladimir Putin, probably the greatest master in this field, continues to cast a spell over her – even after his barbaric invasion of Ukraine. In general, this most gifted German left-wing populist likes to let herself be guided by wishful thinking, which then leads to her sense of reality suffering as a result. Conversely, Sarrazin sometimes forgets that individuals and society only remain alive as long as they are animated by their wishes and hopes.

I am pleased by letters, but I will not publish any more comments.